Arizona lawmaker lashes out at Cardinal Mahony over comments on illegal immigration bill [Updated]
Arizona state Sen. Russell Pearce, a Mesa Republican whose bill would require immigrants to carry proof of legal status, lashed out at Los Angeles Cardinal Roger Mahony on Wednesday for his criticism of the proposed legislation, calling the Roman Catholic leader a "guy who’s been protecting child molesters and predators all of his life."
[For the record, 4:24 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that Pearce and Mahony himself had exchanged charges about who carried greater moral authority to speak out on the immigration issue. The cardinal's spokesman, Tod M. Tamberg, said he was speaking for himself, not on behalf of the cardinal.]
"He's the last guy that ought to be speaking out," Pearce said on the Michael Smerconish radio talk program, a nationally syndicated talk show which airs locally on KFWB-AM (980). "This guy has a history of protecting and moving predators around in order to avoid detection by the law. He has no room to talk."
Pearce's legislation, which has yet to be signed by Gov. Jan Brewer, has created a national firestorm as opponents and supporters call it the nation's toughest law against illegal immigrants. The bill would make it a crime to be in the state illegally and require law enforcement officers to check the legal status of those whom they suspect are undocumented. The legislation would also bar people from soliciting work or hiring workers under certain circumstances, a provision aimed at the day-labor trade.
But Pearce's remarks about Mahony, which aired live this afternoon and can be heard on tape delay at 7-10 p.m., drew an equally feisty retort from the cardinal's spokesman, Tod M. Tamberg.
"Mudslinging and fear mongering are the essence of Sen. Pearce's remarks," Tamberg wrote in an e-mail. "He desperately wants to change the subject, throwing up a wall of inaccurate statements about Cardinal Mahony because he has no good answer to the cardinal's challenge that this is a draconian and unjust law."
Mahony, a nationally influential figure who heads the nation's largest Roman Catholic archdiocese with 4.3 million members, lambasted Pearce's bill on his blog this week, likening it to “German Nazi and Russian Communist techniques” that compelled people to turn each other in.
“The Arizona Legislature just passed the country’s most retrogressive, mean-spirited, and useless anti-immigrant law,” the cardinal wrote on his blog. “The tragedy of the law is its totally false reasoning: that immigrants come to our country to rob, plunder, and consume public resources. That is not only false, the premise is nonsense.”
But Pearce said his legislation was not aimed at immigrants who comply with U.S. laws and enter legally.
"We love and admire immigrants who come here to assimilate to be Americans," Pearce said. "This has nothing to do with immigration. It has to do with those who enter our country illegally."
The senator said the cardinal was ignoring the plight of countless crime victims of illegal immigrants, including police officers who have been killed and teenage girls who have been kidnapped and raped. In a recent high-profile case, authorities suspect an illegal immigrant shot and killed Arizona rancher Robert Krentz, who was found dead on his own property.
"Where does he stand up for America and the rule of law?" Pearce said of Mahony. "He ought to be embarrassed and he ought to be drummed out as far as I'm concerned."
Pearce said that Mahony's defense of illegal immigrants might have to do with "tithes and offerings and how he fills the pews in his churches that has had a declining enrollment."
Meanwhile, several police chiefs spoke out Wednesday against the bill, saying provisions requiring officers to check for illegal status would drain resources away from fighting more serious crime, dissuade immigrants from cooperating with police and subject officers to charges of racial profiling. The Arizona Assn. of Chiefs of Police cited similar concerns in opposing the Pearce legislation.
“This unfunded mandate will strain underfunded police departments and increase their liability," George Gascon, San Francisco police chief, said in a statement. "It will have a catastrophic effect on policing and set back community policing efforts for decades."
Arturo Venegas, former Sacramento police chief, said the bill "essentially legislates racial profiling, putting police in the middle of the train tracks to face an onslaught of civil rights violations lawsuits."
The police chiefs said the federal government needed to step up to control illegal immigration, rather than shift the burden to local law enforcement.
-- Teresa Watanabe
Photo: Los Angeles Times